On Becoming An Accidental Housewife

published Oct 13, 2014
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I suppose I’m not technically a housewife, since I’m not married and I work 30-36 hours/week, but compared to working 40-70 hours/week at well-paying jobs that I was passionate about, it certainly feels that way.

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I’ve moved from city to city over the past 12 years, and have never had difficulty finding a job. I’m not saying I made big bucks, but I could always find something after a couple days of pavement-pounding. My last three years in San Francisco were incredibly professionally satisfying, as I divided my time as a pastry assistant for Blue Bottle Coffee in the San Francisco Museum of Modern art, a floral designer for Birch, a writer for Apartment Therapy, and a frequent dogsitter for two dear families’ wonderful dogs. There were pastry and embroidery commissions as well, and tons of other exciting projects. I worked hard, and a lot, and I loved it. I even had enough money left over after paying San Francisco rent to afford to put 10%+ of my income into savings, conduct a long-distance relationship, go out with friends at least a couple times each week, and treat myself to thrift store dresses. And then I moved to small-town Illinois. And a year later I moved to rural Illinois.

Here, the job prospects are… what’s the opposite of being in somebody’s wheelhouse? They couldn’t be more different from “pastry chef” and “floral designer” if they tried. Truck drivers, factory laborers, fast food workers, and farmhands are in high demand here— and that’s really about it. I have applied for everything I’m even remotely qualified for (I was relieved I hadn’t gone for the Newborn Pig Caretaker position when, a month later, my partner informed me that all of the piglets in the area were dying of a mysterious ailment. I would have been a wreck.), and many jobs that I’m very qualified for. You’d think 15 years in retail/customer service would at least get me an interview for a cashier position at Target or Michael’s, but you’d be wrong. I am very lucky to have a job at our public library, but until my recent raise I was only making minimum wage and driving 30 miles each way. The part-time schedule has actually helped us in the last six months, allowing me to work 30-35 hours/week on our new house, but it also means no benefits.

I make enough between the library, Apartment Therapy, and other freelance writing jobs to pay at least my share of the bills, but there’s little to nothing left over. I squirrel a tiny bit into my savings every now and then, but it’s a pitiful amount. However, I am lucky (once again) because my partner makes a good living— we’re not living fancy, but we can afford to live. I have food, and shelter, and plenty of other comforts, and really nothing to complain about, but the lack of independence has me completely thrown. I don’t have any money to make decisions with.

My partner is wonderful and generous and if I mention that changing out my seasonal clothes has revealed that all my old sweaters have holes, he says lovely things like, “Get yourself a new sweater— we can afford it.” But I can’t afford it, and I’ll be damned if I’ll ask for money. I’d rather have a $3 thrift store sweater I bought myself with money I earned than the world’s most gorgeous sweater that I had to ask for. And I really don’t want to have to ask for $3! Is this stupid pride? Am I only hurting myself here? This is one of those not-a-problem problems, of course, so thank you for indulging me. It just makes me think of I Love Lucy and how Lucy was always trying to get Ricky to increase her hat allowance. It’s a ludicrous concept- but more straightforward, somehow. I could use some hats, too.

Like I said, I pay the bills, but I try to earn my keep in other ways. My partner generally works 50 hours/week, so it seems more than fair that I do all the housework. This includes your usual laundry, dishes, scrubbing, etc, with a healthy dose of gardening, harvesting, and preserving thrown in. On a recent Farm Wife Friday (I have Fridays off from the library), I roasted three pans of tomatoes to freeze, canned three jars of Trinidadian pepper sauce, cooked down an enormous pot of collard greens to freeze, roasted butternuts to make into bread, and made a batch of pesto to freeze in ice cube trays. My stuffed-to-the-gills freezer is a thing of beauty, but the amount of dishes these endeavors generate is appalling. I remind myself that since I’m in charge of paying for groceries, all of this work should pay off handsomely come winter.

This is going to sound like the most obnoxious relationship humblebrag ever, but I often have to discourage my partner from doing housework. To me, it’s just math: if I do all of the housework, our weekly workloads end up about equal. But would I feel the same if I was making more money? If I could afford to treat us to cable and dinners out and a new sofa bed, would I maybe say “36 hours/week is basically full-time— let’s split the housework evenly?” Would I feel like the work I do was more valuable if it was literally more valuable? My partner has never made me feel this way, but I really do feel like I have to “earn my keep,” and that’s not a particularly fun feeling. To feel like you’re letting down the team, or not pulling your own weight- it creates a desperation to always try to do more, do better. It makes me feel like I have less of a say in our life.

I have hopes, though. We recently moved to a house provided by my partner’s job, so our rent will be much less. I have had some better-paying writing opportunities come my way, so those should supplement my income (and keep me excited and motivated). This was my first year gardening, so next year should be even more productive and money-saving. I hope to soon be able to afford visit friends in Chicago, get a replacement pair of winter boots, and some pretty, pretty savings, but most of all, to be able to afford to make decisions.

Have you ever found yourself unemployed or underemployed? Did you relish the chance to make your home lovely or did you bemoan your lack of independence…or both? If your household could afford for one of you to stay home, did you feel like an economic equal?